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Shambhala Sun | March 2014

Empty Graves and Empty Boats

At her grandfather’s grave, RACHEL NEUMANN’s anger erupted, but who was there to yell at in those long-buried remains? There’s no one to blame when an empty boat rams into you, and in the end we are all just empty boats bumping against each other.

There are as many different kinds of anger as there are waves in the ocean. When my older daughter gets angry, there is a deluge of tears. As I watch, she goes limp and sobs into the floor with the unfairness of it all. My younger daughter’s anger is a tornado of hits, kicks, and screams. She can’t be comforted, reasoned, or carried out of the storm until it has run its course. My partner’s anger is quiet and sullen, thick as the southern Mississippi air. Only a slam of the door or a fist on the table occasionally punctuates the silence. Me? I shake with a blaming, seething anger, full of my own righteousness and ready to enumerate the faults of everyone around me.

I’ve always been a blamer. Sometimes, I blame World War II for this. Our family’s survival was tenuous, the exception rather than the expectation. If almost all of our relatives hadn’t been killed, then perhaps I wouldn’t feel so alone in the world. Sometimes, I blame Western culture, capitalism, sexism, and all of the institutions that keep us separated and thinking we have to go it alone. Sometimes, I blame myself.

Growing up, I was pretty sure the world would fall apart if I didn’t check that we had food, take care of my little sister, and make sure the front door was locked. Our whole family’s survival felt like my responsibility and mine alone. Even after I left home, whenever I got overwhelmed in relationships or at work, my mind would return to this well-worn path: “Why do I, alone, have to do everything?”




Excerpted from the March 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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